Selbstbildnis Gelb-Rosa (Self-Portrait in Yellow and Pink), an oil on canvas from 1943, is described by the auction house as “a masterpiece of international rank”. The firm also stated that no comparable artwork has been offered on the German auction market since 1945.
Measuring 3ft 1in × 22 in (95 × 56cm), it was created by the artist during Beckmann’s exile in the Netherlands after he fled the Nazi regime. He gave it to his wife Quappi as a gift and it remained with the Beckmann family for more than 40 years until later entering a Swiss private collection from where it has been consigned to auction for the first time.
It will carry an estimate of €20m-30m at Grisebach’s sale on December 1, the highest pitch for any artwork ever offered at a German auction.
Beckmann self portraits have made notable prices before, most prominently Self Portrait with Trumpet that sold at $20.5m (£14.2m) at Sotheby’s New York in 2001 and Self-Portrait with Crystal Ball that fetched $15m (£7.92m) at the same saleroom in 2005.
The current auction record for any Beckmann painting is the £32m bid at Christie’s in London in 2017 for Hölle der Vögel (Birds' Hell).
Thie Grisebach picture, which is well known to scholars and has featured in a number of Beckmann exhibitions, contrasts to other self portraits in the artist’s oeuvre. Here he appears to defy the fear and resignation he felt during the darkest days of Second World War that characterises many of his other works, eschewing his usual somber hues and painting himself in surprisingly bright colours.
Bernd Schultz, senior partner at Grisebach said: “When I first laid eyes on this museum-quality painting – which for me numbers among the most beautiful and striking of Max Beckmann’s self-portraits – I, too, was fascinated by its allure. For a work of such importance to come onto the art market is a major event, not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors and museums all over the world.”
This is not the first time that Grisebach have offered a Beckmann. In 2018 the Berlin auction house sold Weiblicher Kopf in Blau und Grau (Die Ägypterin) for €4.7m (£4.12m), a sum that still holds the auction record for a painting sold at auction in Germany.
The German auction record for any category of art and antiques is held by a Sino-Tibetan bronze of Vajrabhairava, dated 1473, that took €9.5m (£8.64m) at Stuttgart auction house Nagel in June last year.